Back in the Before, when I was a kid, I used to feel sorry for the last snow of the year. It usually showed up sometime around April, when we were already planting crops, clearing rocks, and shooting our .22s at just about anything that dared to stick its head out of the ground on the back forty.
You’d think that winter was gone for good—that maybe summer wasn’t too far off—when, without any warning—the sky turned from endless blue to that sort of bruised gray-green that would send us all racing for the root cellar in the fall. These clouds didn’t turn into tornadoes, though. It wasn’t that time of year. Instead they dropped white flakes, so heavy and determined to reclaim the ground they’d held all winter, folks would wonder if maybe they’d planted too early.
They didn’t stick, of course. They couldn’t. They’d come too late. The air was too warm, the ground no longer frozen. I’d watch those big flakes hold on with everything they had until, at last, they seemed to sigh with relief before melting into muddy brown puddles, and think that’s the way dying must feel.
Tonight, standing in the empty field with my .22 in one hand and a big old eight-cell flashlight in the other, I wonder if I’ll feel the same way.
According to what everyone is saying on the radios, this is the final wave. And it hasn’t been much of an attack. Only a few scattered groups, wheezing, and coughing, so hot you can feel the fever steaming off their sweaty bodies like a wood stove.
Some people say the army used a secret weapon on them—even though nobody’s seen a soldier in months. Others say it’s on account of the creepazoids being allergic to the pesticides we sprayed on the corn and soybeans in the spring. A group up north claims Bill Gates injected them with tiny chips that fried them from the inside. These are the same folks who said Mr. Gates created the creepazoids in the first place so he could sell more computers or something.
Around here, most folks believe it’s the wrath of God. The churches are long since burned down—along with the hospitals, the police stations, the schools, the stores. Even the cell phone towers. Some of them were torched by the creepazoids, some by the mobs, and some by people who just like to see things burn.
But there are still plenty of preachers telling anyone who’ll listen that the creepazoids were God’s way of smiting the wicked, and now that only the righteous are left, He is destroying His own weapon.
Personally, I think it’s just the end of a season, and these last creepazoids are the final flakes of snow, come too late to stick.
We stand in a line in what used to be the potato field, not talking, only waiting. Grandpa has a revolver in each hand, squinting like a near-sighted cowboy. Ma grips her shotgun, eyes cold as glass. Rusty holds an enormous gun he claims was used to hunt elephants before he got it. Dad’s rifle has a scope that can sight a creepazoid more than a football field away while mine is better on rabbits than monsters like the creepazoids, but I’ve killed my share.
It’s a scene we’ve repeated hundreds of times. The soil of our farm is soaked with creepazoid blood as well as the blood of our families and friends, and I wonder if I’ll be able to eat anything grown in it once this is over.
“There they are,” Dad says, as the creepazoids appear out of nowhere like they always do. Only instead of running and screeching like something out of one of those Stephen King books, they sort of stumble toward us, moaning and hacking their dry coughs.
Sweeping the beam of my flashlight across their glazed eyes, I realize this could be the last of it. The great pandemic of 2019—what everyone calls the Zompocalypse, even though it’s been scientifically proven that none of the creepazoids are dead people raised from the grave—could be over at last.
There won’t be any more attacks. No sirens going off in the middle of the night. No food shortages, or toilet paper shortages, or shortages of whatever people start hoarding when they hear it could be running low. Except for guns and bullets. There have always been plenty of those around here.
We wait until they’re about a hundred feet away. Dad nods, and we open up on them. In the past, a battle could go on for hours or days. The creepazoids are hard to take down and they don’t stop until their bodies are completely destroyed.
But, like the last snow, these final few creatures seem almost relieved when the first bullets hit them. It only takes a shot or two to stop them, and I swear I can see relief in their eyes as they crumple to the ground.
As the last creepazoid stumbles toward us, Uncle Rusty drops his elephant gun and grabs a pitchfork. When the creepazoids first appeared, we were terrified of getting too close to them because everyone thought you could get infected by being breathed on or getting bit. Congress passed the Zompocalypse laws that required everyone to wear masks and stay six feet apart.
Once they discovered it was something in the water, getting close didn’t matter anymore. But, by then, there wasn’t any congress to get rid of the laws.
My hand holding the light shakes a little as Uncle Rusty raises the pitchfork, screams, “Go back to the hell you came from!” and slams it through the body of what, for all I know, could be the last creepazoid in the world.
The creature is so thin its clothes hang off it in rags as Uncle Rusty lifts it in the air above his head. Its eyes blink down at him. Its hands flutter. Its body shudders with one last coughing fit, then its chin drops onto its chest.
Rusty flings it to the ground. “Not even going to bother burning it,” he says, wiping the creepazoids spittle from his face. “Let the disgusting creature rot.”
As the family takes one last look to make sure there are no more creatures lurking around, I walk to the creepazoid Rusty impaled.
Lying broken on the ground, it looks less like a monster and more like leaf fallen from a tree. Its skin is dry and wrinkled. Its scalp has only a few patches of hair—pale and baby fine, like corn silk.
As I look down at it, the creepazoid’s eyes flutter open. They are bluer than I expect, and I think he might have been my age before he was infected. He didn’t go to my school, but I might recognize him from the next town over.
His chest rises and falls, rises . . . and . . . falls. His eyes slip shut. As he lies still on the ground, I wait for the feeling I got when I watched the last snowflake melt. Maybe it’s because creepazoids are different than snow. Or maybe it’s just that I’m not a kid anymore. But as I pull the pitchfork from the creature’s dead body, all I feel is relief.
“Is that the last of it then?” Mom asks. “Could it really be over?”
Dad flicks the safety on his rifle, moves a box of ammunition from one coat pocket to the other, and nods. “I think so. Assuming we don’t starve before the next crops come in, and we can all stay healthy until they rebuild the hospitals, we might make it.”
Uncle Rusty wipes the sweat from his forehead and coughs into his hand before nodding. “Yep. I feel like 2020 is going to be a great year.”